There is a Sierra Leonean proverb that states 'An Okra tree cannot grow longer than its owner'. I didn't want to be that disobedient okra tree that challenges what I was meant to believe in and uphold. I was meant to believe everything I am told. I was not meant to question things. Such attitude is considered a grave disobedience. I wanted to be the good child.
I was told Female Circumcision was best for girls and women. I believed it because my Mother and aunties said it was. I had even imagined how I will get my daughter circumcised once I get one. Raising a voice against it would be a grave sin which could result in punishment from God. It is considered a 'Sunnah' in my culture. Reported to have been practiced during the days of prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him). Challenging female genital cutting was like challenging the very reason for my existence; our dear culture. So strong and so powerful.
I was also held back by the thoughts of my Mother who strongly believes in it. I was concerned about embarrassing her. A lovely woman who gave me nothing but genuine love. How was I going to challenge her ideas about FGM/C? How was I going to challenge what was meant to be my own beliefs? I thought about this for a long time. But there was this strong and growing feeling that kept pushing me to challenge it. Perhaps it was the same feeling that drew me towards journalism.
When our female journalists association agreed to celebrate the International day of Zero tolerance to FGM on February 6th, with the theme 'The role of the media in the FGM debate', It was clear we were ready to unleash the secrecy embedded in the practice itself. We were going to have a series of programmes that whole week. Colleagues in the broadcast media were going to do a radio discussion programme bringing both parties to the debate to discuss the practice. I offered to write an opinion piece on the topic.
When I told my Mother I had written against 'the Bondo society' (FGM/C initiating group) and It would be published in few days. She was not happy. She said few words. 'It is our culture and I don't expect you to speak up against it.' I smiled at her and in a cunning but mild way I said, 'Things change Mama. You cant tell me things are the same today as your time. Everyday you remind us about how lucky we are to be born in Freetown and at this time. Similarly, FGM belongs to the past. We are moving forward.' Mama didn't reply instantly. Taking a spoonful of the rice and cassava leaf she was eating, she looked at me like the tiny baby she remembered delivering on the day I was born and said 'You are going to have it hard with the 'Soweis' (FGM initiators). I am only warning you to be careful. You are still a small girl.' I didn't say a word again. My mind was made up.
My article was published. Since then I started writing about other issues affecting women that were underreported in the media. Since that moment, I realised I was opened to a new world and a new me. I was no longer worried about upholding a belief that were detrimental to humanity. I also learnt that things that everyone does or believes in are not necessarily the right things. Few people can still be on the right side of a debate. I also learnt to speak my truth quietly but clearly with a strong conviction on my stance as an individual. I started to question other things I had believed in in the past.
Female circumcision is always a derilous path to thread in the Sierra Leone community. Even among the elites of our society, there are those who support the practice in private and will never challenge it in public. People just dont see the wrong in it even as young girls continue to suffer from the practice. Challenging FGM/C in public could lead to abuse from members of the public who sometimes think the campaigner may have either been brainwashed by foreigners or paid to destroy our 'almighty culture'. I have experienced that many times. But that has not deter me.
Personally, for me to have opened up discussion on female circumcision and to have openly made my stance clear, was a real empowerment to me and I believe to many other women. I felt liberated. It was the beginning of a new era in my life.
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